Skip to content

Forever Van

Van's 70thVan Morrison is 70 today, and I’m listening to his birthday concert, live on the radio from Cyprus Avenue in Belfast. Yes, it’s that Cyprus Avenue, where he made us all, no matter how far away, imagine how it would feel to be caught one more time.

The last time I saw him was at the Albert Hall six years ago, when he performed Astral Weeks with a band including Jay Berliner, who played guitar on the original 1968 recording, and the cellist Terry Adams, a much-admired member of his Caledonia Soul Orchestra in 1973. It was an excellent concert (as it needed to be, given the price he was charging for tickets), and later it was possible to relive it with the album recorded live at the Hollywood Bowl, although nothing could replace the soul-baring tension of the original.

The first time I saw him was at Fillmore East, New York, in April 1970, a few weeks after the release of Moondance, with the tight little band that had recorded it, including John Platania on guitar and Jack Schroer on saxophones. He was utterly brilliant, and I seem to remember that he kept his eyes tightly closed throughout the set. Most of the songs were from the new album, but he also did a wonderful version of “Cyprus Avenue” which led Geoffrey Cannon to describe him (in the Guardian) as “bursting with his adolescent passions, now past, stuttering in his need to understand the urgency of sexual desire, and of visions of beauty.”

I was at Birmingham Town Hall in 1973 for his triumphant return to Britain after a seven-year absence. That was the Caledonia Soul Orchestra tour, which climaxed with an electrifying gig at the Rainbow in London (partly commemorated in the great live double album titled It’s Too Late to Stop Now). The gig I wish I’d been to was the one at the Mystic Theatre in Petaluma, California, in 1994, captured as A Night in San Francisco, featuring John Lee Hooker, Junior Wells, Jimmy Witherspoon, Candy Dulfer, and Georgie Fame on Hammond B3. In the medleys of “Moondance” / “My Funny Valentine” and “In the Garden” / “You Send Me” / “Allegheny”, Van is at his very best.

In Belfast this afternoon — via BBC Radio Ulster, upon whose producers and engineers may a thousand blessings fall — he’s just done “Moondance”, “Born to Sing” with Chris Farlowe, an utterly beautiful “Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child”, and an ultra-cool medley of “Baby Please Don’t Go”, “Parchman Farm” and Slim Harpo’s “Don’t Start Cryin’ Now”, which was Them’s first single in 1964, when Van was 19. Maybe if I cross my fingers and hold my breath he’ll do “Vanlose Stairway”, about a girl in Copenhagen, with its great opening lines: “Send me your picture… send me your pillow….” But it’s his birthday. He can do what he wants.

* The photograph is from irishrocknrollmuseum.com

In the Rothko Chapel

Rothko Chapel 1If I could be teleported anywhere in the world for just a couple of hours, I’d probably choose the Rothko Chapel in Houston, Texas. It’s a little painful to think that I’ll probably never get to see the place that I wrote about here for the Guardian a few years ago, prompted by a performance in London of the piece Morton Feldman wrote in 1972, two years after his friend Mark Rothko’s death.

Feldman’s Rothko Chapel is fully reflective of its subject. You might even take it to be the last word. But then, five years ago, the improvising trio called Mural — Jim Denley (wind instruments), Kim Myhr (guitars, zithers, percussion) and Ingar Zach (percussion) — were given permission to record a performance inside the chapel, documenting a very different response to the space in a 50-minute piece called “Doom and Promise”.

They have returned a couple of times since then, and on April 27, 2013 they recorded an unbroken set of almost four hours, three quarters of which now appears on a three-CD set titled Tempo. Each disc is devoted to between 45 and 51 minutes of the set, omitting the first section of the performance.

Denley, who is from Australia, studied classical flute and began a long career in new music — playing many different wind instruments, with and without mouthpieces — after encountering the music of Evan Parker and Derek Bailey during a stay in London in 1975. Myhr is a Norwegian improvising guitarist who has written for the excellent Trondheim Jazz Orchestra. Zach, also Norwegian, is a member of Huntsville, one of my favourite bands.

The two and a half hours of Tempo provide an object lesson in free improvisation by musicians sensitive to each other and to their environment. There are no imperatives beyond the unhurried collective ravelling of sound in reaction to the space. Words to describe parts of it might include tinkling, buzzing, fluttering, booming, whirring, scraping, tolling. The individual contributions are not what this music is about, although Denley begins the second disc with a very striking saxophone passage involving simultaneous key-tapping and a shakuhachi-like bending of notes before the others join in for a close examination of tones and textures that achieves moments of great beauty. Indeed, if the second disc were issued in isolation, it might be considered a masterpiece of its kind; it’s something you could use to persuade a sceptic of the value of free improvisation, if you could get them to sit still and pay proper attention.

As with Rothko’s canvases, the meaning of this music lies in a land of the emotions beyond adequate verbal description. But if you like what AMM do, or the meditative solo percussion music Frank Perry used to make with his collection of gongs and bowls, then this might well be your thing, too. And since I’m probably never going to make it to Houston, it will have to do for me.

* Tempo is released on the Sofa Music label on September 4. Its predecessor, Live at the Rothko Chapel, was released on the chapel’s own label. The photograph, by Hickey-Robertson, is from the chapel’s website: http://www.rothkochapel.org 

Tower of song

Sunset Tower 2While re-reading the first volume of James Kaplan’s Frank Sinatra biography in preparation for reviewing the second and final instalment, due later this year, I was reminded of Sunset Tower, the West Hollywood art deco apartment block whose penthouse Sinatra occupied for several years. It was from the balcony that he fatefully hollered down one evening in 1948 to Ava Gardner, his lover-to-be, who was living in a little house right across the street. (“A curtain was drawn, a window opened,” Kaplan writes. “Ava stuck her head out of the window and looked up: she knew exactly who it was. She grinned, and waved back.”)

This further reminded me of one of the first jazz 78s I ever owned: a Stan Kenton disc recorded 60 years ago this summer, coupling “Opus in Chartreuse”, a Gene Roland composition and arrangement, with a piece from Kenton’s own pen, titled “Sunset Tower”.

The two tracks were recorded at the same sessions as the celebrated Contemporary Concepts album, on July 20 and 22, 1955. When they were added as bonus inclusions on the CD reissue a few years ago, the annotator suggested that Kenton’s title alluded to the famous Capitol Records tower at Hollywood and Vine. I think not. Sunset Tower has been a famous landmark since its opening in 1931 — even during the years when it was turned into an hotel, known first as the St James’s Club and then as the Argyle, before having its original identity restored by new owners.

Designed by the architect Leland A. Bryant, it was home at one time or another to Marilyn Monroe, Howard Hughes, Errol Flynn, Bugsy Siegel and Zsa Zsa Gabor. Truman Capote, who also stayed there, wrote: “I am living in a very posh establishment, the Sunset Tower, which, or so the local gentry tell me, is where every scandal that ever happened happened.”

Kenton’s “Sunset Tower” is actually a revision of a piece he had written in 1950, originally called “Something New”. It’s pleasant enough, with a brassy opening and a smooth theme statement by the close-voiced saxophone section, and a trombone solo by Carl Fontana, all beautifully kicked along by Mel Lewis, a great big-band drummer. When I bought the second-hand 78 from a market stall in 1960 or thereabouts, I preferred the leaner swing of “Opus in Chartreuse” (one of Gene Roland’s series of “colour” compositions, which also included evocations of turquoise and beige), not least for the beautifully Lestorian tenor solo by the underrated Bill Perkins.

Neither is a masterpiece, but together they make a good case for the virtues of West Coast jazz in the 1950s, as well as adding a footnote to the architectural history of Los Angeles.

* The photograph of Sunset Tower was taken (from the north side of Sunset Boulevard) in 1955, the year the Kenton piece was recorded. James Kaplan’s Sinatra: The Chairman, the successor to Frank: The Voice, will be published by Doubleday in October.

The return of Burnin Red Ivanhoe

Burnin Red IvanhoeWhen I saw them playing with their Danish compatriot John Tchicai at the Berlin Jazz Festival in November 1969, Burnin Red Ivanhoe impressed me as the first significant contribution made to rock by a band from continental Europe. This was before Focus, Shocking Blue and Golden Earring from Holland, before the flood of German bands that included Amon Düül II, Can, Kraftwerk, Neu! and Tangerine Dream, before Wigwam from Finland, before PFM from Italy.

Basically, Burnin Red Ivanhoe had a rock rhythm section (guitarist Ole Fick, bassist Jess Stæhr and drummer Bo Thrige Andersen) and jazz horns: Kim Menzer on trombone, flute and harmonica and Karsten Vogel on alto and soprano saxophones. There was a bit of Uncle Meat-era Zappa in there, a bit of Soft Machine, maybe a bit of Who and Floyd. I was particularly taken by the eloquent, heartfelt playing of Vogel, who had also been a member of Tchicai’s Cadentia Nova Danica. Rather fashionably, they had just released a double album, titled M 144, which showcased their various dimensions: riffy rock, free blowing, the occasional burst of Scandi-whimsy.

I wrote about them a couple of times in the Melody Maker (in the days when the sub-editors were not above inventing headlines that made play with phrases such as Great Danes and Viking Invasion). John Peel played them on his programme and gave them a deal for a new album on his Dandelion label, which he co-produced (under his favourite pseudonym, Eddie Lee Beppeaux) with Tony Reeves, Colosseum’s bass guitarist, at CBS Studios in London. They toured a few times, and recorded another album in Copenhagen, called W.W.W., but eventually they disappeared from general sight.

Over the years I kept in occasional touch with Karsten. He’d give me recordings that showed his remarkable range: with his own fusion band, Secret Oyster (Straight to the Krankenhaus, CBS, 1976); on a nice solo album called Birds of Beauty (CBS, 1976), in a duo with the great Carnatic violinist Dr L Subramaniam (Meetings, Calibrated Records, 2007); playing tunes associated with Charlie Parker on a lovely quartet album called My Old Flame (Calibrated, 2010). There’s also an extraordinary album recorded with two singers, Hanne Siboni and Skye Løfvander, in Copenhagen’s vast disused underground water cisterns: Stained Glass Music (Oyster Songs, 2004) is a fascinating study in the sensitive exploration of a cathedral-like natural echo.

But the point of this post is the arrival of a new Burnin Red Ivanhoe album. Released by Sony in Denmark in artwork echoing the cover of M 144, with stencilled lettering on a plain background, the new one is called BRI and features two original members, Vogel and Menzer, with the latter’s son, Klaus, on drums, Assi Roar on bass, Aske Jacoby on guitar and Lone Selmer on voice and keyboards.

Quite often these late-life revivals don’t work. But this band — and Vogel, the chief composer, in particular — seems to have as much to say as it did 45 years ago, perhaps more. And the musicians certainly have better resources with which to say it. The mix of idioms sounds richer and much more assured as they switch from the whispered recitative and soprano/harmonica conversation over the irresistible descending sequence of “Natlig Rejse” to the folkish bluegrass strum of “Det Er Det”, the brittle power chords of “Tiden Om Tiden”, the gorgeous jangly pop of “Alting Var Bedre”, the gliding, glistening beauty of “Cafe Blåhat”, and the insistent “Mind the Gap”, whose lyric juxtaposes lines from Baudelaire and Poe with an announcement familiar to users of the London Underground (“Stand clear of the closing doors…”).

For old times’ sake, there’s also an absolute killer remake of “M 144”, with great alto from Vogel over a driving groove. But this album isn’t about the recreation of past glories. It’s about creation in real time, by real musicians who’ve made excellent use of the intervening years. What a shame Peel isn’t around to hear how good they’ve become.

* Photograph of Lone Selmer and Karsten Vogel by Mette Kramer Kristensen.

Loud, louder, loudest…

BerghainThis building, for those who don’t already know it, is Berghain, probably the world’s most famous techno club. It opened in 2004 in a building formerly used by East Berlin’s electricity company, now surrounded by waste ground near the Ostbahnhof station. Its sound system is said to be the best of its kind in the world, and it was put to good use this week at the opening night of a four-day festival called A l’Arme!, which is billed by its curator, Louis Rastig, as an “international jazz and sound-art meeting”.

The first highlight was the opening DJ set by Mieko Suzuki, who spent an hour making a simple drone evolve into something rich and strange, with mesmerising subtlety. Then came a duo performance by the saxophonist Colin Stetson and the bass guitarist Bill Laswell, who exploited that legendary sound system to the full.

In my time I’ve stood next to a nitro-burning Top Fuel dragster as it warmed up for a four-second, 300mph quarter-mile run, underneath a Vulcan bomber as a combined 80,000lb of thrust propelled it in a steep climb from low level, and within spitting distance of the Who’s PA. All of those would be in the range of 120-150 decibels. Stetson and Laswell were louder than any of them.

For the best part of an hour they made great waves of noise in which pulse and pitch were subordinate to the overall intention of filling every cranny of the concrete and steel space. The muscular, athletic Stetson made his bass saxophone howl and groan, using effects to produce many simultaneous sound-layers. The expressionless Laswell prodded at his pedal-board and picked at his strings with a deceptively delicate touch while filling the room with stomach-loosening lines. If you were standing a few feet from one of the speaker stacks, the volume generated a breeze that ruffled your hair and made the fabric of your clothes ripple. Ear plugs were available.

It was brutally exhausting, but somehow magnificent. Goodness knows what Adolphe Sax and Leo Fender, creators of the instruments that Stetson and Laswell were taking to the limits and beyond, would have made of it.

Funeral songs for a low-strung guitar

Billy JenkinsThe first time I saw Billy Jenkins, he was in a pop-art band called Burlesque, in the mid-’70s. They were managed by a friend of mine who worked at Ronnie Scott’s and wanted me to sign them to Island Records. I thought they were clever but lacked a big idea. However they did have a very interesting guitarist, who looked like an urchin from a post-war movie set in the bomb-wrecked wastelands of the East End, and played with a kind of furious inventiveness.

After that I kept an eye on Jenkins. But I went off him in quite a big way some time in the ’80s, when he made a big-band album called Scratches of Spain, which spoofed or satirised or somehow otherwise sent up Miles Davis’s Sketches of Spain, to the extent of presenting itself in a sleeve that defaced the original. For me, despite the presence on the record of most of the members of the admirable Loose Tubes, this was a post-modernist step too far. I loved Miles’s album too much. What was the point of Jenkins’s exercise, beyond drawing attention to himself? (I felt the same, with greater intensity, about the precise facsimile of Kind of Blue recorded last year by Mostly Other People Do the Killing. Sometimes I can’t help taking these things too personally.)

But I never lost the belief that Jenkins was anything other than a very imaginative and quite original guitarist, even though I didn’t keep pace with everything he did. And now he’s made a record that I really like: a download-only release on his own Voice of the People label called Death, Ritual & Resonation. It’s a series of eight solo pieces for low-strung guitar based, unusually enough, on his experiences of seven years conducting humanist funerals — 368 of them, apparently, following training with the British Humanist Association.

I’ve been to a couple of humanist funerals. They can work quite well, although in my experience they tend not to have much of a sense of the numinous. But if his humanist studies and duties were what it took to get this album out of Billy Jenkins, then I’m all for them. The track titles include “Thoughts on Life and Loss”, “Rejoice That They Lived”, and “Walk on in Gratitude”, and the prevailing mood is one of reflection. There are no displays of virtuosity: just a quiet exploration of figures and motifs, with powerful overtones of the country blues and occasional piquant undertones of the English hymnal.

The playing is beautiful throughout, in both the tone Jenkins draws from his instrument and the balance and development of his phrases. Anyone still in mourning for the late John Fahey’s solo guitar meditations should find it particularly rewarding.

* Photograph of Billy Jenkins: Beowulf Mayfield (http://www.flickr.com/photos/wulfus). Album download: http://www.billyjenkins.com.

Love & Mercy

Love & Mercy Paul DanoEarly on in the new Brian Wilson biopic there’s a moment that just about brought me to tears: Paul Dano, playing the young Brian, is seen by himself at an upright piano, hesitantly picking out the chords of “God Only Knows”, as if they’re just occurring to him. Exposed in that way, their unearthly beauty is even more apparent. A glance at the piano arrangement suggests that they include an F#mi6, a Cdim and an A#5-. Brian would have been 23 at the time. Where on earth did he get such ideas?

Love & Mercy can’t tell us that. No one can. But it makes a very good attempt at showing us what it must have been like to be Brian Wilson at two important stages of his career: 1965-66, when he was conceiving Pet Sounds and Smile in the face of scepticism from certain fellow Beach Boys, and the late ’80s, when he met his second wife, Melinda Ledbetter, while under the dictatorial control of the therapist Eugene Landy.

I met Brian five years after the first period, when he was virtually silenced and living with his first wife, Marilyn Rovell, in the house on Bellagio Road where he wrote those masterpieces, and then again in the middle of the second, when he and Landy came to London and stayed at the Mayfair Hotel, where I went to try an conduct an interview.

Notoriously, Brian’s weight has always been an indication of his state of mind. He was seriously overweight the first time (although not close to the 300lb that he would become), and almost skeletal the second. In the Beverly Hills house he was charming and forthcoming, to the point of sitting down at the piano to perform the complete “Heroes and Villains” and his own arrangement of “Shortnin’ Bread”; he also insisted that we listen to the Ronettes’ “Be My Baby” several times. In London he was practically a zombie, fussed over by the ever-attentive Landy, and it was such a depressing experience that I went away and didn’t write up the meagre results of our conversation.

John Cusack does a good job of portraying that older Wilson, but Dano (above) is exceptional in his ability to convey Brian’s temperament through mannerisms. The director, Bill Pohlad, gets the period details right — the studio scenes with the Wrecking Crew at Gold Star and Western are wonderfully realistic — and loses his way only towards the end, first with an impressionistic attempt to depict the damage that sent Brian deaf in one ear and then with a surrealistic sequence that places him at various ages, from infancy to late middle age, in a white bed in a white room.

Inevitably, the movie’s bad guys are Landy, Murry Wilson and Mike Love. But, as with a lot of real-life bad guys, there is something to be said in mitigation for each of them. Before he turned into a manipulative monster, Landy (who died in 2006) almost certainly saved Brian from the potentially fatal consequences of a pathological overconsumption of drugs and Reddi-Wip cream topping. Brian’s dad was another monster, with a violent temper, but at least he encouraged his three sons’ desire to form a band. And although Love might live to be 100 without getting his head around Van Dyke Parks’s “Over and over the crow flies uncover the cornfield”, he did provide the lyrics to “Fun, Fun, Fun”, “California Girls” and “Good Vibrations”.

The last time I saw Brian, at the Royal Festival Hall in 2007, I went with two tickets, an invitation to go backstage after the show, and my daughter, who loves the Beach Boys. It was a thoroughly good example of the latter-day Brian Wilson concert: not as historic as the Pet Sounds and Smile recreations, but spirited, accomplished and deeply enjoyable. Afterwards, having made our way backstage with the idea of saying hello, we found Brian seated at a table, signing things. There was a queue, so we joined it. By the time we got to the front  he seemed exhausted and wasn’t even raising his head to greet his visitors. So we simply thanked him and left.

That little episode made me think about what he had been through to bring us all that marvellous music and about what it had cost him — and was still costing him, to an extent, even though his almost miraculous rebirth seemed to have brought him private satisfaction along with a fresh wave of public acclaim. Love & Mercy is an authorised film, which means that it omits some things and elides others, but in the end it’s worthy of its subject. And if you come out thinking Paul Giamatti made Eugene Landy seem scary, I can tell you that the real thing was a whole lot more terrifying.

The word from Moses

Moses Boyd2©Sam_MardonWhen I saw Moses Boyd playing with Soweto Kinch in Berlin last year, I was knocked out. Here was a young drummer with the kind of litheness and sense of “lift” that I loved in the playing of Billy Higgins and Frank Butler. And of Tony Williams, who turns out to have been Boyd’s hero as well as mine.

Wrists are important to a drummer, and sometimes you only need to see the way they work to tell how good he or she is. A drummer with good wrists is more likely to draw the sound out of the drums and cymbals, rather than bashing it into them. Moses Boyd has very fine wrist-articulation, which gives him a lovely touch and the ability to produce a finely graded set of tones. It also helps him achieve a fantastic fluidity in his playing, whether it’s swing or eights or free. I feel I could watch him through soundproof glass and know that he’s an ace.

Boyd is from South London, and so is Binker Golding, the tenor saxophonist with whom he’s just made a duo album. It’s called Dem Ones, and it’s on the Gearbox label, which specialises in vinyl-only recordings made in a North London studio on equipment manufactured by companies like Studer, Westrex and Telefunken — the sort of names you used to see on the back of albums on the Contemporary label, whose owner was proud of the sound quality of his releases. “No editing, overdubbing or mixing” is what it says on the sleeve, and the process of recording direct to two-track tape and cutting the master directly from the result certainly helps preserve a sense of intimacy and immediacy.

Binker and Moses (which is how they bill themselves) are 29 and 23 years old respectively. They’ve played together for some time in a variety of contexts, and their improvised interplay is marked by both familiarity and adventurousness. Golding has a very nice sound: tough but warm. If you needed to locate his approach, you might place him somewhere between George Coleman and Sam Rivers. He plays a lot of notes but doesn’t waste any of them. He and Boyd are in each other’s pockets all the way, whether the music is thunderous or gentle.

Here, to give you a taste, are three tracks from Dem Ones“Man Like GP”“Black Ave Maria” and “No Long Tings”. And here’s a piece from Exodus, another of Boyd’s projects, again with Golding plus Theon Cross on tuba and Artie Zaits on guitar. It’s in a different direction. I’m guessing that he’s got a few of those, and that they’ll all be worth following.

* The photograph of Moses Boyd was taken by Sam Mardon, who also shot the video for “Man Like GP”. Here’s where to find Gearbox Records, who also have vinyl albums by Tubby Hayes and Joe Harriott: http://www.gearboxrecords.com.

Another summer with Johnny

Johnny-Hallyday-noir-et-blancIt’s summer, which means that Johnny Hallyday is almost certainly playing some arena or other in the south of France. He’s 72 now, but after recovering from a serious health problem in 2009 he shows no signs of stopping. Rester vivant is the title of his recent album and of his current French tour, which takes him through to next February.

Back in the autumn of 2012 he came to London for the very first time, something not to be missed by a Francophile like me. To add to the authenticity of the event, the 5,000 seats of the Royal Albert Hall were almost entirely occupied by members of the French colonies of South Kensington and Kentish Town, currently numbering several hundreds of thousands. To sing the words of Michel Berger’s “Quelque chose de Tennessee” — possibly the best French pop song of the last 50 years — along with them and Johnny was a very stirring and precious experience.

The latest album was produced in California by none other than Don Was, former member of Was (Not Was) and current president of Blue Note Records. To be frank, it sounds pretty much like everything Johnny has released in the latter stages of his career: the slightly overwrought music of someone in love with the whole mythology of post-war American cultural imperialism, with just enough of a bitter-sweet hint of Gallic chanson to give it a dimension beyond the image of a man in black Levi’s, a motorcycle jacket and a single earring strumming a sunburst Strat with a Lucky Strike wedged in the tuning pegs, looking out over a Malibu sunset, with a chopped gunmetal ’55 Chevy idling in the background.

Don Was and his crew of Hollywood session men do a perfect job: the Hammond B3 is a security blanket, and the guitar and tenor saxophone solos are idiomatic but never overdone. Among those present are Greg Leisz, Dean Parks, Audley Freed and Matt Rollings. The drumming is by Charley Drayton, once a member of Keith Richards’s X-Pensive Winos. The bassist is Laurent Vernerey, a member of Hallyday’s road band.

The material is all new, from sources including the singer Yodelice and the lyricist Isabelle Bernat, whose collaborators include the English songwriters David Ford and Andy Hill. As usual with songs tailor-made for Johnny, they’re about love and life and hope. None of them has yet quite stuck with me in the way that “C’est pas une vie” from 2008’s Ça ne finira jamais did, although “On s’habitue à tout” makes good use of Leisz’s pedal steel and Gabe Witcher’s country fiddle. But I’m happy to give them time while I listen again and imagine I’m on holiday in Provence, drinking a cinquante-et-un and still smoking unfiltered Gitanes.

Late Lee

Lee Konitz A TraneThis is Lee Konitz, the great alto saxophonist, reflected in the window of A-Trane, a small jazz club in Berlin that was packed to the gunwales for his performance last night.

Konitz was born in 1927; it is almost 70 years since, aged 18, he replaced Charlie Ventura in Teddy Powell’s big band. Before he was 21 he had begun his studies with Lennie Tristano and taken a starring role first in the Claude Thornhill Orchestra, playing Gil Evans’s arrangements of bebop tunes, and then in Miles Davis’s nonet, which became known as the Birth of the Cool band. These days he plays less than he did, in the sense that he lets his sidemen — and, on this occasion, a guest singer, Judy Niemack — carry quite a lot of the weight, and much of his own performance is taken up with his own weightless scat-singing, but every note that comes from his saxophone is worth hearing.

A couple of years ago I wrote here about my admiration for his late work. The repertoire doesn’t change: variations on “Stella by Starlight”, “All the Things You Are”, “Out of Nowhere” (in the Tristano variation called “312 E 32nd St”). There was also “Kary’s Trance”, which Konitz wrote in 1957 on the chords of “Play Fiddle Play”. At one point he invited his extremely sensitive and adept accompanists — the pianist Florian Weber, the bassist Jeremy Stratton and the drummer George Schuller, plus Niemack — to create a collective improvisation from scratch, tacitly reminding us that in 1949 he was part of the Tristano group which, with two pieces called “Intuition” and “Digression”, made the first attempts at such a thing.

And then, alone with the rhythm section, he sat and played a version of “Body and Soul” that made an old, tired song sound completely fresh and new, all the accumulated wisdom of his long career poured into a few frail but beautifully shaped phrases.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,305 other followers